I remember in 2005 when I booted up Resident Evil 4 for the first time. Walking into that first village square, not even the eerie bonfire and burning corpse could prepare me for the intensity of what would ensue. It was not horror in the traditional sense. It was tension, a tension brought about by chaos and an overwhelming of the senses. When I paused to plug one foe with a few bullets, I felt rushed as I had no idea what could be coming up behind me. The buzzing of a chainsaw didn’t help matters. I found myself running more than engaging in pure third-person action, trying to stave off an enemy I was ill-equipped to defeat.
*Yes, this is another review, from a different perspective*
Game Name: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Now, I don’t begin my review of Resident Evil 7 with this anecdote to try and imply that the game reaches the heights of the classic fourth entry in the series. Unfortunately, this title is not as revolutionary. However, what it does do is create that same tension. It does it in a much different manner, but it’s there nonetheless, and it is something the series has not done properly in twelve years.
True Evil is Back
The first great thing that Resident Evil 7 does is, rather than throw a ton of ridiculous lore and characters in your face, put the player in a simple scenario that is easy to get engaged in and works precisely because of its simplicity. You’re Ethan, a man who has received an ominous message from a wife Mia, declared dead for three years. It leads him to a creepy-ass house in the middle of the bayou, and from there the player makes their way through the eerily creaky hallways, trying to search for clues as to what happened. The investigation will lead all about the manor grounds, forcing the player to backtrack and explore every nook and cranny as new items are slowly acquired that allow greater and greater access to the mysteries enclosed. This is one of the best aspects of the game, as the house becomes one big puzzle that you solve over the course of about 8 hours on your initial play through.
It’s not so easy, though, as you’ll soon encounter the house’s owners: the Bakers. These demented, grotesque adversaries will wander the house looking for you, and while you can stall them, you can’t stop them. It’s a mechanic similar to that of Nemesis from the third Resident Evil, and with the switch to a first-person perspective, it is unbelievably terrifying simply turning a corner to see one of these guys patrolling at the other end. Very few things in gaming have made me shout “oh shit” aloud, and while the game does use jump scares from time to time, it is the fear of the unknown that creates that tension. At any moment a super-powered foe can turn the corner and ruin your day, and with limited ammunition (and the prospect of not finding anymore for quite a while always looming) the game does a great job of keeping players on their toes.
When your back is to a wall, combat feels extremely satisfying. It requires precision and discipline, as recoil has a real effect and players will find themselves letting enemies get dangerously close to land that perfect head shot. Oftentimes, depending on your inventory, it makes more sense to immobilize. A head shot can be lethal, but missing by just an inch can make the difference between a lucky shot and a waste. The combination of tight corridors, sparse ammunition, and powerful foes also forces the player to maintain spacial awareness, as an escape route can be just as good as a shotgun shell…well, not really. This game packs one of the greatest shotguns ever.
But perhaps the best compliment I can give the game is how well it comes together as a whole. Not only is the manor well designed, but the flow and narrative are so well paced that despite the relative brevity of the campaign the player feels like they’ve been trapped for days rather than a night. The first person perspective only enhances the immersion.
It Just Needed to Stay on Target
On the whole, Resident Evil 7 is a success. But it does hit some noticeable snags. Most annoying for this gamer was the choice to use blood splatter on the screen as a health indicator. It never seemed to reliably let me know exactly what my status was, which would have been nice when trying to conserve those herbs. The same amount of red could mean at times that I could take another few hits, and at other times that one scratch would mean the end. While the clean HUD worked well with the first person perspective, a little health bar wouldn’t have hurt. I also found myself scratching my head when I discovered that the knife, a fairly essential item, could not be assigned to a melee button separate from the four directional buttons used for weaponry. Towards the end game, I was constantly moving around my inventory just to use my knife to break a box.
As I said before, the game uses the “keep it simple, stupid” approach, and it works. However, in classic Resident Evil fashion, the characters deliver their lines in a ridiculous fashion at times and do display some jank in their animations. This only stands out more because the game generally looks really good. Finally, it must be said that, without spoiling anything, the game does fall apart somewhat in the final stretch. It seems to throw away all that made the first 7 hours great in favor of an action romp. The closest equivalent I can think of is 4’s island section and the final fight with Saddler. While it’s not horrid, it’s just not as good.
A Return to Greatness
While Resident Evil 7 does have flaws, on the whole it is the best entry into the franchise in over a decade. The gamble definitely paid off